The Science Behind (#2): Nuclear Reactors – Dangerous Energy

By Jack D.

Nuclear reactors are some of the most powerful, efficient, and at the same time dangerous energy sources available. But they’re a bit of a mystery. Personally, I know barely anything about them. But you might! If you noticed that I might have missed something, feel free to put it in the comments. Let’s get to the questions!

The questions we’ll be covering today are-

  1. What is a nuclear reactor, and how do they function, and what is nuclear fission?
  2. What is a “meltdown”?
  3. What are the pros and cons of using nuclear power as a main source of energy for the future?

FUNCTION? FISSION? WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?!?

Let’s jump into our first question, “What is a nuclear reactor, and how do they function, and what is nuclear fission?” Well, according to www.energy.gov,”Nuclear reactors are the heart of a nuclear power plant.” But how do they work? Well, the article says they work by “containing and controlling nuclear chain reactions that produce heat through a physical process called fission. That heat is used to make steam that spins a turbine to create electricity.” Here’s the thing… what the heck is fission? Well, Oxford Dictionary defines it as “the action of dividing or splitting something into two or more parts.” With nuclear reactors, it’s atoms that are being split in half, which creates massive amounts of energy. That’s also how atomic bombs work. They use fission to create immense amounts of energy. That energy is then released, creating a massive explosion.

Burning Down the House!

No, reactor meltdowns are not actually related to Talking Heads’ 1983 song. That was just a pun. But our second question of today does explain some similarities that they share. The question is:

What is a “meltdown”?

Well, don’t you fear! I’m going to tell you. In layman’s terms (which means “simple language that anyone can understand”), A nuclear meltdown describes a malfunction of a nuclear reactor.  A nuclear meltdown occurs when the middle portion of the nuclear reactor containing the fuel rods (its “core”) is not properly cooled. This can occur when the cooling system fails or is otherwise defective. If this happens, uranium or plutonium or similar materials inside the nuclear reactor become hot and may start melting or dissolving. It is this melting that is a nuclear meltdown.

Pros, cons, all that jazz.

Pros:

  • Efficient
  • Lasts a long time when properly taken care of
  • Low carbon footprint
  • Cheap to run

Cons:

  • Meltdowns are extremely dangerous and can make a huge area of land uninhabitable for an extreme amount of time
  • The amount of nuclear waste it produces. It has been estimated that the world produces some 34,000m3 of nuclear waste each year, waste that takes years to degrade.
  • Expensive to build

Conclusion

Nuclear reactors are some of the most amazing, viable, and all the while dangerous fuel sources available. They have multiple pros and cons. Some people like them, and others don’t. I guess it’s safe to say that nuclear reactors make…

Dangerous energy.

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